ENG 238 What Jane Austen Read: The 18th Century Novel

Douglas Patey, M W F 9:00 AM-9:50 AM


The 18th and early 19th centuries are a watershed in the history of English literature: it's at this time that prose replaces poetry as the primary literary medium; that literature becomes a profession (for women as well as men); and that the literary form of the novel is born. In this course, we'll read some classic early English novels and some not–so–classic tales, always with an eye to the literary qualities of individual works and to their social and historical context.

After a quick initial look at Austen, we'll begin by looking at some of the literary forms from which the novel emerged—heroic romance, Puritan spiritual allegory, and travel–writing—as we find these represented in works by Behn, Bunyan, and Defoe. Then we'll proceed to the first great age of the novel—in works by Fielding and Richardson, Sterne and Austen—and finally to innovations in storytelling by Romantic novelists.

Throughout the course, our two main interests will be in how storytellers draw their characters, and in how they organize and shape their tales. Through the first sort of interest, we'll be able to see both how characterization changes in literature and how conceptions of human character and identity themselves have changed. Through the second interest, we'll explore the ways in which how a story is told reflects and dramatizes its author's moral, social, and religious commitments. And finally, since the new genre of the novel tends to be about real life—everyday social, economic, and political reality—we'll pay special attention to our writers' vision of that reality (what their visions include, and what they exclude).

Recommended background: English 200


Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818)

Aphra Behn, Oronooko (1688)

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress, Part I (1677)

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)

Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews (1742)

Samuel Richardson, Clarissa (abridged) (1747-48)

Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey (1768)

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

Jane Austen, Persuasion, (1817)

Walter Scott, Waverley (1814)

Writing assignments will depend on the size of the class.